Pilkington reports: "The National Security Agency's dragnet of communications data poses a direct threat to journalism in the digital age by threatening to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, one of the world's leading journalism watchdogs has warned."
(illustration: Eric Drooker)
NSA Actions Pose 'Direct Threat to Journalism' Leading Watchdog Warns
By Ed Pilkington, Guardian UK
14 February 14
Agency's dragnet of communications data threatens to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, Committee to Protect Journalists said
The National Security Agency's dragnet of communications data poses a direct threat to journalism in the digital age by threatening to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, one of the world's leading journalism watchdogs has warned.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based body that promotes press freedom around the world, has devoted the first two chapters of its annual report on global threats to an assessment of the impact of the NSA's data sweep. Its internet advocacy co-ordinator, Geoffrey King, warns that the NSA's dragnet threatens to put journalists under a cloud of suspicion and to expose them to routine spying by government agencies.
By storing mass data for long periods, the NSA could develop the capability to recreate a reporter's research, retrace a source's movements and listen in on past communications, King warns. "It could soon be possible to uncover sources with such ease as to render meaningless any promise of confidentiality a journalist may attempt to provide – and if an interaction escapes scrutiny in the first instance, it could be reconstructed later."
CPJ's annual report, "Attacks on the Press", which was released at the United Nations building in New York on Wednesday, chronicles a troubled year for journalism with 211 journalists imprisoned and 70 killed – a near-record number. On top of an all-too familiar account of censorship, kidnappings, detention and killings, the committee's warnings on the dangers of mass surveillance sound a new alarm for the digital age.
In the second chapter, devoted to the impact of the NSA dragnet disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, CPJ's executive director Joel Simon predicts that a paradoxical side-effect of the NSA's actions will be to make it easier for China to censor the internet and expand its cyber-attacks around the world. "The NSA spying operation has not only undercut US moral authority, but has also made it more difficult for the international community to argue that the Chinese hacking operation falls outside international norms," Simon writes.
CPJ's critical appraisal of the NSA's mass surveillance comes hard on the heels of a special report it published last October in which the former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie accused the Obama administration of blasting a chill through US journalism through its aggressive pursuit of official leakers. Downie concluded that the clamp-down was making it more difficult for the press to hold government accountable for its actions.
The CPJ report also coincides with the latest annual press freedom index from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which penalised the Obama administration for its hard-line approach by relegating the US from 33rd to 36th place. RSF damned the US government for having an approach in which "the whistleblower is the enemy".
Looking back on 2013, the international watchdog said: "Hence the 35-year jail term imposed on Private Chelsea/Bradley Manning for being the big WikiLeaks source, an extremely long sentence but nonetheless small in comparison with the 105-year sentence requested for freelance journalist Barrett Brown in a hacking case. Amid an all-out hunt for leaks and sources, 2013 will also be the year of the Associated Press scandal, which came to light when the Department of Justice acknowledged that it had seized the news agency's phone records."
In his report on NSA surveillance, King cites a number of national security reporters and experts who all said they believed the spying agency targets journalists for surveillance. He also pointed to a Der Spiegel article based on NSA documents leaked by Snowden that showed that the agency had hacked into an internal communication system of the broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
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